1902 Encyclopedia > Christianity > Christianity and the Bible. Definition.

(Part 6)

Christianity and the Bible

These various conceptions of Christianity may be further illustrated by the views which are held by the partisans of each concerning the relations between Christianity and the Bible. The Bible and Christianity cannot be separated, but different opinions may be and have been held about the relation in which the two stand to each other. On the one hand naturalists, and those who take the mechanical view of Christianity, are inclined to" regard the Bible chiefly as a compendium of abstract truths, which may be condensed into dogmas and summarized in creeds; while those who take the spiritual view of Christianity regard the Bible as the medium which reveals God and His gracious dealings personally to the believing reader or hearer. To the one the Bible is a quarry of doctrines to be rationally criticized or implicitly accepted when once stamped as genuine by the church, to the other it is above all things a means of grace which the most ignorant can use and profit by. To the naturalist the Bible has been formed by the church, it is simply the natural production of the minds of those who formed the old Jewish and the early Christian communities, and grew to be what it is without the aid of superhuman intervention. To those who have adopted a mechanical view of Christianity the Bible is also the product of the church, but of the supernatural power in the church, and has grown to be what it is because it has been sanctioned by the church. To those who take the spiritual view of the nature of Christianity, the Bible, on the other hand, is and always has been the formative power in the church and' that round which the church gathers itself, for it is the presence of God speaking to His people ..

Both naturalists and those who hold a mechanical theory of Christianity agree in holding that there is an external sort of development in the Bible, and that the church can go beyond the Bible, whereas those who hold the spiritual view of Christianity deny both these positions. Naturalists hold that one part of the Bible is beyond the other, and since the Bible is simply the outcome of man's religious thoughts and feelings in certain ages and places, they believe that men now may give utterance to thoughts and sentiments which in depth of feeling and insight may surpass those contained in the Bible. The Tübingen theologians, for example, believe that the New Testament is a series of deposits of religious truth, in which the truths taught by Jesus are supplemented by the teachings of His disciples, by the lessons of Paul, and by the theories of Christians educated in the philosophy of Greece; while Dr Newman considers that the church, in virtue of a supernatural gift bestowed upon her, can add to the doctrines contained in the Bible according to certain well-defined lines of development. On the "other hand those who hold the spiritual view of Christianity believe that the church can never go beyond the Bible, and that progress in Christian theology means greater insight into the manifestation of God in the Bible and greater power to interpret the supernatural facts and forces made known therein.

The various theories differ also in the closeness of connection which they think subsists between Christianity and the Bible. The naturalist and those who put the church above the Bible as the formative power in Christianity both make the relation between Christianity and the Bible a purely intellectual one, whereas those who hold by the spiritual view make the Bible a means of grace and not merely the quarry whence to hew theological dogmas. But the naturalist agrees' with spiritual Christians in maintaining the authoritative character of the Bible, while the mechanical Christian sets the Bible aside when it does not agree with church tradition. With the naturalist, however, the Bible is authoritative because it is the only set of documents which tell him about Christianity in its primitive state. It is authoritative because it is the only witness to the historical facts of Christianity, not because it is to be a law to him. To the spiritual Christian, on the other hand, the Bible is authoritative because it is a revelation of those spiritual forces and a record of those spiritual events on which Christianity still depends, and which teach him the way of salvation.


To sum up, then, Christianity claims to be no mere social revolution or natural step in the march of human progress. It is a religion whose sources are not to be found within man's nature but outside of it in the saving revelation of God in Christ; and Jesus is thus the author and giver of an eternal life which spreads itself and is maintained, not by mechanical contrivance, but by the living Spirit of God entering into human history, and building on the basis of reconciliation a kingdom of God which is both human and divine, and which comes and comes again and again in wave after wave of developing completion until the will of God is done on earth as in heaven.

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Christianity - Table of Contents

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